People lined up to see what the new leader of the New Democratic Party had to say during a visit last weekend. As part of Jagmeet Singh’s first trip to the Halifax area, a JagMeet-and-greet event was held to a capacity crowd at Lion & Bright on Agricola Street on Sunday evening.
The doors opened at 6 p.m. and the bar quickly filled up, even though Singh did not arrive for another 30 minutes. There was also a line that formed outside for those who were unable to get in immediately.
Singh, a former Ontario NDP MPP, won the leadership contest to replace Tom Mulcair as federal NDP leader on Oct. 1. He doesn’t currently hold a seat in the House of Commons.
Motivations and questions
The people waiting for Singh were a mix of NDP diehards, politically active citizens and people interested in hearing what he had to say.
Martha Meschino, an NDP member, said she didn’t watch the leadership debates, so it was her first chance to see what Singh had to say.
“I want to see if I feel he can carry the day in a federal election, if not as the governing party, then as the opposition,” Meschino said.
Some people were excited to see themselves represented in a major political leader. Singh is the first Sikh to become leader of a federal party in Canada.
“I’m more interested in seeing what a visible minority has to contribute to Canadian politics,” said Kanika Anand, a new permanent resident who is originally from India.
Others wanted to take advantage of the access to Singh.
Nick Delaney was near the back of the line. He said he’s not a member of the NDP, but was interested in hearing more.
“I’ve read a couple of articles and I’m pretty interested by some of the things he’s said,” Delaney said. “He’s really well-spoken; he seems like he’s got some good ideas.”
Singh addresses the crowd
Singh greeted the people in line before heading inside. During his speech, he outlined his platform, which included universal basic income, universal pharmacare, universal dental care, electoral reform, relations with Canada’s Indigenous peoples and the decriminalization of personal possession of drugs.
Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bear some resemblance as leaders. They’re young (38 for Singh, 45 for Trudeau) and have campaigned on the idea of hope. However, Singh distanced himself from Trudeau and the Liberal party.
“Why I’m so offended by what the current government has done, why I think a lot of people are offended is they made people start to hope again,” Singh told the crowd. “People started to hope for some significant changes … it wasn’t that they just got excited on their own, the government promised it.”
Singh also related some of his personal experiences to issues in Halifax, comparing carding in Ontario to street checks in Halifax.
“I’ll be the first prime minister who has ever been carded,” he said.
Though Sunday’s event was listed as a meet and greet, volunteers from the NDP’s local federal riding association took the opportunity to do some fundraising. An organizer asked the crowd if they were prepared to donate various amounts of money right then to make sure Singh is the next prime minister. At $100, someone yelled out “I’ll do a hundred bucks for a selfie with Jagmeet.”
After this, Singh set to work fulfilling the promise in the name of the event: meeting and greeting.
As some people approached Singh for a chat or a picture, others stood back and watched. Lenore Zann, NDP MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River, was one of them.
“We are just humanists and we believe in trying to make the world a better place for everybody,” she said. “That message is what the Nova Scotian people need to hear right now.”